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The Lobby Effect

Lobbying by private groups does influence federal biomedical research funding, say two management professors in a paper. New York University's Deepak Hegde and Bhaven Sampat at Columbia University add, though, that it "may not necessarily have a distortive effect on public science."

As they recount in their paper accepted by Management Science, Hegde and Sampat focused their analysis on funding for rare, usually genetic, diseases between 1998 and 2008. As lobbying increased in this timeframe, so did the number of soft earmarks — language in Congressional appropriations that "urges" the National Institutes of Health to support research into certain diseases — and NIH allocations.

Ed Silverman at Pharmalot adds that for those years, the portion of NIH funding for new rare disease projects that could be chalked up to soft earmarks ranged between 3 percent and 15 percent.

Hegde and Sampat also found that lobbying itself increased in response to increases in disease burden and research opportunities, and say lobbying and Congressional oversight could be "complements to, rather than substitutes for, agency attempts to allocate funding based on scientific opportunity and disease burden."

"Lobbying may be transmitting information about the public burden [of rare diseases] and scientific opportunities [for research] into the allocation process that might not otherwise use this information," Hegde tells Silverman. "It may have a beneficial effect, but we don't have a conclusive way of establishing that."